This was a paper written December 2014 for my Approaches to Everyday Discourse class.
Can you judge a book by its blurb?
How do you decide which book you want to read? When you go into a book store, which books appeal to you enough that you spend your money on them? If you go to a library, which books convince you that they’re worth your time?
Most people have a general idea of what they might want to read for fun. They might like to read romances with happy endings. They may enjoy mysteries that they can solve two pages before the main character does. They might enjoy biographies of people who lived through major parts of history. In a book store or a library, they’ll wander over to the genre they’ve picked out. Once there, they make a selection based on the information they have available. Often times, all the information they will have to decide from will be the dust jacket or front and back covers. If we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover art, then we are left with only the blurb to help us to make an informed decision about what we’ll read next.
The purpose of this paper is to examine blurbs used for young adult fiction novels and to explore the methods writers of said blurbs employ to capture their audience. Through examining the methods used in a sample of blurbs found on young adult fiction books, we can see the moves that blurbists generally follow typical patterns of moves and employ both pathos and ethos to convince their audiences to read a particular book.
Choice of Data
Blurbs vary through each edition of a book. The first edition of a book published may have an entirely different blurb than the version published right after a book becomes a movie. Blurbs for books that have met wide success are written differently than books first appearing on shelves. To ensure uniformity with the most current blurbs being used, I looked at the book descriptions on Amazon.com.
Of all genres, I chose to concentrate on Young Adult Fiction, arbitrarily because this is my favourite type of book to read, and partially because it is less a genre in subject matter and more a genre in audience. While these books encompass everything from simple romances to science fiction set in futuristic world, they all share a common audience: teenagers and young adults. Other segments of books may cater to an unknown more specific group of people. In this regard, the samples I use are catering towards the same group of people, namely those in the teenage/young adult age group, while exploring very different topics.
I used about 50 samples in examining blurbs. To select these blurbs, I used Amazon.com’s top 100 bestselling books for the month in the Young Adult/Teen category. From this list of bestselling books, I only selected one book per author, and I only selected the first book of series, ignoring sequels or other novels by the same author. I ignored non-fiction books and books mainly for education purposes. I concentrated mainly on books set in the present and books that have been published in the last ten years; however, I did select some outliers in order to be able to examine any differences. I also threw in a few young adult books that I have read and loved.
This set includes some books that have sold millions of copies and have been number one on the New York Times Bestsellers books, and it includes some books that, while they mayn’t have reached thrilling popularity, they have sold enough copies to make Amazon’s list for the week. People have made a conscious decision to buy these books, which means that in some form the blurb has been effective.
A lot of blurbs are preceded by or followed by quotes from other authors or respected people praising the book or saying something about how they enjoyed it. I chose not to examine these sections of the blurbs as this would have added many more variables to examine that went out of the scope of this paper.
In this paper, I mainly use the methodology of Chaïm Perelman’s new rhetoric theories and Aristotle’s theories of ethos and pathos.
I examine the appeals to pathos and ethos that blurbs make, as suggested by Aristotle. Ethos is the credibility that authors have, generally depicted in the last paragraph of blurbs, that convince us that these books or authors are credible through claims about the book or through details about accomplishments of the authors that show how they have proved themselves to be good writers. Pathos is an appeal to emotions, done through making the readers become emotionally invested in characters and feel obligated to let their stories continue.
I use Chaïm Perelman’s theories to examine the moves blurbists employ when they write blurbs as suggested by Perelman. His thoughts on language revolved around how the audience shaped the language. The form blurbs take has come from blurbs evolving over time, and I look at how appeals to the audience and how the moves blurbists make affect the success of blurbs.
How To Write a Blurb
Perelman’s approach to discourse suggests that writers use certain moves in certain genres. This is apparent in the blurb genre, as most blurbs include the same moves and points about their various books. Blurbs as a genre are directly affected by their audience. They are written for a general audience, or in this case, a more specific age group within an audience. As such, their success depends on how their appeals to this audience works. If a book does not sell well on a first print but sells much better on a second print with a different blurb, then blurbists will look to the blurb of the more successful latter as a guideline for future blurbing endeavours.
A strange form of unity has come about in these blurbs, with even general outliers following a relative pattern. Very few blurbs are longer than three paragraphs. Most utilize the space they have very effectively, using carefully chosen adjectives and including details that draw readers in. Some of these moves include the setting up of premise, the introduction of characters, a captivating or striking first line, and appeals to pathos and ethos in the final paragraph.
The meat of the blurb comes in the establishing of the premise and conflict. Though this is given the most presence, the opening and closing sentences are equally important as these draw the reader in and give the final perspective respectively.
These blurbs are very rarely shorter than three paragraphs, yet most of them use this space very effectively, fitting a lot of information into this space. While traditionally blurbs would have been confined to merely the small space on the back of a book or on a dust jacket, blurbs have more leeway now with the developing presence of e-books and online sellers of hard books; as such, it is interesting to note that the short and punchy length has remained popular.
Books that can be considered ‘classics,’ or books that have achieved relative success and have been in print for a few years, are often only one paragraph long. Most of these more revered books I examined used only a few lines, normally simply using ethos and talking about the amount of copies that the book has sold or the number of readers who have been enthralled.
The First Line/Sentence
The first common move is to use an attention grabbing single line for an opening paragraph. This is often bolded, italicized, or simply in a bigger font to further set it aside. Over a fifth of my samples used this approach by having either a sentence or a phrase only highlighted at the beginning of the blurb. Some are simple and beg attention—“ALONE” (Paulsen, Appendix Q). Others raise thought provoking questions—“What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?” (Atkinson, Appendix B). Others have intriguing quotes from their book—“‘Nobody ever doubts a hero’” (Clark, Appendix E).
These lines don’t provide much insight into the text or tell the reader what they can expect, but they have a very valuable purpose—to grab the reader’s attention as they stand in the bookstore. Though they use one very valuable paragraph, they are space well spent as they are the reader’s first impression and if they are not captivating, a reader might drop the book right there.
These sentences are the most consistent moves of the blurbs. While some might not be in their own paragraph, almost every blurb has a dramatic first sentence. Sometimes these first lines may be overly dramatic. These lines are the first impression we get, other than the cover, of a book, and need to be very well articulated.
The meat of the blurb contains the most important parts, the reasons why we are going to read this book. This section generally sets up the main problem or conflict that will be the driving force of the story. There is a balance here between giving away the entire plot of the book and giving enough information to draw a reader in and convince us that we want to continue reading.
If the book is set in a dystopian society as many Young Adult books are, the blurb needs to convey what sets this society apart and how it runs. Even if the problem is not explicitly stated, we must inherently understand that there is a flaw in the system. The main character generally is exposed to some new information about this society or realizes that something has gone wrong. Setting also becomes very important in fantasy or science-fiction novels, when certain concepts about the worlds created within the books need to be explicitly stated in order to make the blurb logical. We might not know that a particular book is fantasy, so if all of a sudden we encounter a dragon, we will be confused; however, if we had already been told that
In The Hunger Games, the government, known as the Capitol, is described as “harsh and cruel” and is described as maintaining its power by requiring its provinces to “send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV” (Collins, Appendix F). Describing an entire dystopian society might be challenging to do in-depth, so these blurbs often take a few vital elements and depict these only. Though The Hunger Games also involves twelve districts with vast class inequalities and corrupted government officials, the blurb does not mention these details.
Similarly, in The Testing, the government selects only “the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization” through extensive testing (Charbonneau, Appendix C). The blurb leaves these tests ambiguous and open to the reader’s imagination—even before the book begins, readers are using their imagination to create a world that might draw them in even more than a description of the actual world of the book might. The Testing also includes class inequalities amongst various cities, a lack of communication between these cities, and a university system that only serves to oppress those it educates and eliminates those that might pose a challenge to the government. If all this information was conveyed in the blurb, readers might be deterred and overwhelmed, confused by the complex scenario. The blurb works effectively by instead conveying only a little information.
General fiction books have less to do in establishing their premise than dystopian fiction, science fiction, or fantasy might—they rarely mention where the book. Though location might play a big role on the book, it rarely gets mentioned in general fiction. These blurbs can effectively explain the problem without needing to go into setting. Gayle Forman’s If I Stay manages to do this in one sentence: “Seventeen year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck” (Forman, Appendix J).
Over 80% of the blurbs examined were written in present and future tense, even when the book itself was written in past tense. This contributes to the immediacy of blurbs. As readers, we are responsible for what happens to the characters, and we must keep reading or else the characters will be suspended forever.
Thirteen Reasons Why sets us up by introducing to Hannah, Clay’s former crush who committed suicide. “If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide” (Appendix A). We feel like by reading this book, we will get to explore the town alongside Clay and discover her reasons with him. If we do not read the book, Clay will never find out why Hannah committed suicide. As the earlier part of the blurb has made the characters interesting and dynamic, people that we care about, we feel like we should read the book to allow them their ending.
A similar situation happens with Cassia in Ally Condie’s Matched “is faced with an impossible choice” (Condie, Appendix G). This coming after we have been introduced to the Society that controls her life, we readers find ourselves invested in her story. We must read the story in order to allow her to make her choice.
In addition to the premises, characters are given short descriptions—blurbs within the blurb about them. They are generally described in ways that make the characters relatable or interesting. Characters are also given challenges they must overcome and we want to see them succeed and overcome their weaknesses.
Sometimes, these descriptions make us fall in love with characters. In City of Bones, Jace is described as “a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk” (Clare, Appendix D). The comment on his appearance implies that there will be some romance involved between him and the main character, but that he acts like a jerk makes him more interesting than a cookie cutter hero.
Charlie Holmberg’s Paper Magician introduces us to “Ceony Twill, a self-propelled heroine who—armed with only a photographic memory and a stack of paper—greets every new surprise with aplomb” (Holmberg, Appendix M). Aplomb, per the Oxford English Dictionary, means “Assurance, confidence, self-possession, coolness” (OED). However, this is not a common word. Not every character one meets has ‘aplomb.’ As such, Ceony draws us in. We want to see exactly how she will greet surprises, and to do so, we must read the book.
The Final Paragraph: Ethos
Blurbists utilize a lot of ethos in their final paragraphs, ethos being the credibility of something. If an author has ethos, then they have credibility and there are reasons that we might trust them. These paragraphs advertise the author and tell us why his writing is worthy of our time. If she’s published fifty novels, this is where they will tell us. If he has her MFA from a prestigious university, they’ll tell us here. If the book is now a major motion picture, we’ll find out here.
John Irving’s The World According to Garp is a more classic novel, meaning its only paragraph is its final paragraph. Part of this reads “In more than thirty languages, in more than forty countries–with more than ten million copies in print” (Irving, Appendix M). This shows that millions of people have already enjoyed this book—people from all over the world, from all different backgrounds.
Generally, books will advertise any prize they might have won. “Middlesex is the winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction” (Eugenides, Appendix I). If an author has any qualifications that might imply they are strong writers, this will be detailed. John Green is described as an “award-winning-author” (Green, Appendix L).
Alternately, it might make a statement making it seem award worthy, as the blurb of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods does. “It is, quite simply, an outstanding work of literary imagination that will endure for generations” (Gaiman, Appendix K). If this will endure for many generations, then we should read it now so we can be educated.
These are simple but effective calls to ethos. Through explaining the authors qualifications, these final paragraphs convince us that the authors of these books are qualified to be writing. As no one wants to read a book that feels slow or unexciting, these calls to ethos may be the final part that convinces us to read the book.
The Final Paragraph: Pathos
With the last moments of our attention they have, blurbists will try and summarize in a sentence exactly why we should read this book. To do this, they appeal to our emotions through use of pathos.
These appeals will talk about what the reader will get out of the book in the end. Zevin’s Elsewhere exemplifies both: “This moving, often funny book about grief, death, and loss will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned” (Zevin, Appendix T). We want to explore deep topics such as death, especially if it will be done so in a comic fashion. Telling us that the book will stay with us shows that the time we invest in reading this book will be rewarding.
Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park also effectively demonstrates this: “When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under” (Rowell, Appendix R). The idea of a first love is often simple and nostalgic and conjures up fond memories. Love is often an intriguing concept, and humans naturally want to read about it. This sentence effectively pulls readers in.
Another example of pathos comes in the ending of the blurb for The Hunger Games, which after describing a dystopian society that endorses humans fighting to the death, ends with “in this searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present” (Collins, Appendix F). Readers immediately want to know what these parallels are and what this book might reveal about the way our society is.
Final Display of Linguistics
The last sentence takes the opportunity to throw in as many adjectives as possible, hoping one might be effective. These books are funny, gripping, addictive, modern, inventive, dark, searing, audacious, wonderful, outstanding, thrilling, tragic, sensational, surprising, charmed, hilarious, moving, and comic, to name a few. One could go as far as to call one “exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping” (Clare, appendix D).
Though some of these words may be apt, these do feel like a last ditch attempt to suck a reader in. Against the concise and polished paragraphs that appear at the beginning, the adjectives seem rather desperate, as they often have nothing but opinion to back them up. Still, most blurbs use these.
One effective outlier comes in E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (Appendix N). This uses eight lines to both set the premise and to be a hook. It relies on Lockhart’s qualifications to justify the brevity of this intro. The arrogant tone might be considered cocky if this was coming from a first-time novelist, but it works.
Using dialogue to set the scene also works effectively. In Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex (Appendix I), we see an entire paragraph taken directly from the words of the main character. Though this deviates from the more traditional blurb voice of speaking about the book instead of from the book, this effectively explains the premise and draws in the reader.
Another successful outlier is Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (Appendix R). This blurb has ten lines of speech and two sentences. One sentence then sets the premise, and the second uses pathos to encourage us to read the book. Though it is uncommon to use so much dialogue or text straight from the book, this speech provides us with insights into the characters. Since the premise is still effectively set, this blurb still contains the main ingredients of a successful blurb.
Paper Magician by Charlie Holmberg (Appendix M) uses its own approach entirely to create an effective blurb. The blurb begins “We think ‘charmed’ is the right word for our reaction to this very special debut. The Paper Magician is pure fantasy with a spin on magic—spells enacted by the folding of paper—that we’d never seen before” (Holmberg, Appendix M). This uses first person, and we readers are spoken to by the blurbist in an extremely rare breaking of the fourth wall. This blurb is effective in that it breaks from our expectations and catches our attention, just as a good first line should. This also uses pathos, as we feel like the author and blurbist will take us in and look after us.
Most of the more ‘classic’ books, or books with an established presence across multiple years, fell short of the average length, usually only taking up one paragraph. Life of Pi (Martel, Appendix P) and The Giver (Lowry, Appendix O) exemplify this. These generally skip a lot of the theatrics that other blurbs included, and had their own set of moves, consisting of one to two sentences of premise set up and a final sentence listing the books’s sequels.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (Appendix S) stood out from the crowd with a whopping five thick paragraphs, five times as long as most books with established presence. This blurb also does not use any wild adjectives or calls to ethos or pathos, despite being one of the best-selling books of this generation. Unlike other blurbs, it summarizes a lot of the events that will happen in the book, letting us know that these events happen instead of convincing us to read the book in order to make these books happen.
As Perelman theorizes, the audience plays a huge role on the way a genre works. As we have seen through the various moves employed and appeals to ethos and to pathos, blurbs are written to convince readers to invest their time and money in a particular book.
Asher, Jay. “Blurb.” Thirteen Reasons Why. New York City: Razorbill, 2011. Web.
Atkinson, Kate. “Blurb.” Life After Life. New York City: Hachette, 2013. Web.
Charbonneau, Joelle. “Blurb.” The Testing. Boston: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013.
Clare, Cassandra. “Blurb.” City of Bones. New York City: Simon and Schuster, 2009. Web.
Clark, Kathy. “Blurb.” After Midnight. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services. 2013. Web. Collins, Suzanne. “Blurb.” The Hunger Games. New York City: Scholastic Press, 2009. Web.
Condie, Ally. “Blurb.” Matched. New York City: Penguin Group, 2011. Web.
Dashner, James. “Blurb.” The Maze Runner. New York City: Delacorte Press, 2009. Web.
Eugenides, Jeffrey. “Blurb.” Middlesex. New York City: Macmillan, 2010. Web.
Gaiman, Neil. “Blurb.” American Gods. New York City: Harper Collins, 2009. Web.
Lockhart, E. “Blurb.” We Were Liars. New York City: Delacorte Press, 2014. Web.
Lowry, Lois. “Blurb.” The Giver. Boston: HMH Books for Young Readers, 1993.
Martel, Yann. “Blurb.” The Life of Pi. New York City: Mariner Books, 2002. Web.
“Aplomb.” Oxford English Dictionary. Web. 5 Dec. 2014.
Paulsen, Gary. “Blurb.” Hatchet. New York City: Simon and Schuster, 2009. Web.
Rowell, Rainbow. “Blurb.” Eleanor & Park. New York City: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013.
Rowling, J.K. “Blurb.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York City: Scholastic
Press, 1998. Web.
Zevin, Gabrielle. “Blurb.” Elsewhere. New York City: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Web.
Appendix A. Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself-a truth he never wanted to face.
Thirteen Reasons Why is the gripping, addictive international bestseller that has changed lives the world over. It’s an unrelenting modern classic.
Appendix B. Kate Atkinson, Life After Life
What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Ursula’s world is in turmoil, facing the unspeakable evil of the two greatest wars in history. What power and force can one woman exert over the fate of civilization — if only she has the chance?
Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.
Appendix C. Joelle Charbonneau, The Testing
It’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony (the former Great Lakes) is celebrating. All Cia can think about—hope for—is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization. When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings (”Cia, trust no one”), she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever. Danger, romance—and sheer terror—await.
Appendix D. Cassandra Clare, City of Bones
When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing — not even a smear of blood — to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?
This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…
Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare’s ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.
Appendix E. Kathy Clark, After Midnight
“Nobody ever doubts a hero”
What started as a typical night on Colfax Ave. ended with one cop dead, one cop wounded, a missing prostitute and a reporter who became a hero.
Officer Sam Morgan had worked for the Denver PD for five years, most of which were spent patrolling the streets around the State Capitol. He’s seen his share of druggies, dealers and hookers, but since some of them were his best sources, he normally wasn’t quick to arrest them.
On a hot June Saturday night, Sam was sharing his patrol car with a ridealong, which could be a blessing or a curse. Things went smoothly until they came face-to-face with a prostitute and her pimp. Sam stopped to talk to the pair, but when his backup arrived, the atmosphere changed from curious to angry and aggressive. Suddenly, the pimp pulled a gun, and after exchanged gunfire, the other police officer and the pimp were both dead and Sam was seriously wounded. The ridealong had saved the day by retrieving a dropped pistol and shooting the pimp before he can get a fatal shot at Sam. In the confusion, the prostitute disappeared into the night.
The ridealong, Brian, a reporter for The Denver Post writes a compelling first-hand account of the incident which turns out to be his big break.
Kate, the prostitute, tried to convince Sam, as he recovers from his wounds that she isn’t a really a prostitute, but he didn’t believe her. She tells him she’s an actress, hired by the dead pimp to be on the streets that night for the filming of a TV show. As the weeks pass and it becomes clear that someone is out to either frighten her enough to leave Denver or to kill her, Sam begins to believe her story.
Joining together, the cop and the actress uncover many inconsistencies and even more suspects. Along the way, they also discover a sexual attraction that quickly turns into even more than either of them had bargained for.
As they get closer to the truth, the threat escalates until Kate finds herself fighting for her life. It’s up to Sam to save her, but will he be in time?
Appendix F. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
The book no one can stop talking about . . .
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Collins delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, in this searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.
Appendix G. Ally Condie, Matched
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.
Appendix H. James Dashner, The Maze Runner
If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.
Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.
Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.
Everything is going to change.
Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.
Remember. Survive. Run.
Appendix I. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.”
So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.
Middlesex is the winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Appendix J. Gayle Forman, If I Stay
In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make.
Heartwrenchingly beautiful, this will change the way you look at life, love, and family. Now a major motion picture starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Mia’s story will stay with you for a long, long time.
Appendix K. Neil Gaiman, American Gods
A storm is coming . . .
Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.
But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.
Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.
Relevant and prescient, American Gods has been lauded for its brilliant synthesis of “mystery, satire, sex, horror, and poetic prose” (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World) and as a modern phantasmagoria that “distills the essence of America” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). It is, quite simply, an outstanding work of literary imagination that will endure for generations.
Appendix L. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Appendix M. Charlie Holmberg, The Paper Magician
We think “charmed” is the right word for our reaction to this very special debut. The Paper Magician is pure fantasy with a spin on magic—spells enacted by the folding of paper—that we’d never seen before.
With a complex heroine who struggles at the intersection of whimsical circumstance and a desire to determine her own destiny, The Paper Magician is sophisticated enough for adults but dabbles in magic and mythos that are perfect for teens. Ultimately, we just love the story of a young woman who works hard and faces deep disappointments, yet remains determined to do what’s right—no matter the cost.
Set at Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, The Paper Magician does what all great stories do: allows us to connect with the protagonist and trust that she’s up to any challenge. Charlie Holmberg accomplishes this and more with the precocious Ceony Twill, a self-propelled heroine who—armed with only a photographic memory and a stack of paper—greets every new surprise with aplomb. Truly, this book charmed us.
Yes—that’s definitely the right word. Happy reading!
Appendix M. John Irving, The World According to Garp
This is the life and times of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields, a feminist leader ahead of her time. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes, even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with lunacy and sorrow, yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. In more than thirty languages, in more than forty countries–with more than ten million copies in print–this novel provides almost cheerful, even hilarious evidence of its famous last line: “In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.”
Appendix N. E. Lockhart, We Were Liars
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.
Appendix O. Lois Lowry, The Giver
The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. Lois Lowry has written three companion novels to The Giver, including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.
Appendix P. Yann Martel, Life of Pi
After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound royal bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years.
Appendix Q. Gary Paulsen, Hatchet
Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present — and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent’s divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self pity, or despair — it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.
For twenty years Gary Paulsen’s award-winning contemporary classic has been the survival story with which all others are compared. This new edition, with a reading group guide, will introduce a new generation of readers to this page-turning, heart-stopping adventure.
Appendix R. Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park.
Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.
Appendix S. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry, an orphan, lives with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley.
One day just before his eleventh birthday, an owl tries to deliver a mysterious letter the first of a sequence of events that end in Harry meeting a giant man named Hagrid. Hagrid explains Harry’s history to him: When he was a baby, the Dark wizard, Lord Voldemort, attacked and killed his parents in an attempt to kill Harry; but the only mark on Harry was a mysterious lightning-bolt scar on his forehead.
Now he has been invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where the headmaster is the great wizard Albus Dumbledore. Harry visits Diagon Alley to get his school supplies, especially his very own wand. To get to school, he takes the Hogwarts Express from platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross Station. On the train, he meets two fellow students who will become his closest friends: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
Harry is assigned to Gryffindor House at Hogwarts, and soon becomes the youngest-ever Seeker on the House Quidditch team. He also studies Potions with Professor Severus Snape, who displays a deep and abiding dislike for Harry, and Defense Against the Dark Arts with nervous Professor Quirrell; he and his friends defeat a mountain troll, help Hagrid raise a dragon, and explore the wonderful, fascinating world of Hogwarts.
But all events lead irrevocably toward a second encounter with Lord Voldemort, who seeks an object of legend known as the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Appendix T. Gabrielle Zevin, Elsewhere
Is it possible to grow up while getting younger?
Welcome to Elsewhere. It is warm, with a breeze, and the beaches are marvelous. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can’t get sick or any older. Curious to see new paintings by Picasso? Swing by one of Elsewhere’s museums. Need to talk to someone about your problems? Stop by Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatric practice.
Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver’s license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she’s dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward? This moving, often funny book about grief, death, and loss will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.